Health cooperatives are delivering life-saving services during COVID-19

24 Feb 2021

Health cooperatives delivered life-saving services during COVID-19

As public sector healthcare providers around the world are struggling to cope with COVID-19, health cooperatives are stepping in to support them. Four healthcare professionals working for health cooperatives in different countries shared their experience

Fundacion Espriu

Carlos Zarco, president of the International Health Cooperative Organisation, is also the director of the Espriu Foundation in Spain, a medical cooperative which provides health services to over two million people and employs 6,200 health professionals. 

He explained how even before the pandemic hit Spain the Espriu Foundation had set up working groups to monitor the evolution of the virus and develop adequate protocols to manage health centres and patients. Once cases started rising in March-April 2020, the Espriu Foundation made itself available to health authorities, to respond to the needs of the population and avoid the collapse of the public healthcare service.

Another step taken by the Foundation was to increase capacity in its hospitals, in some cases having to triple the number of beds available for critical patients. Additional resources and professionals were also allocated to meet the increased demand for healthcare services for COVID-19 patients. Retired former employees returned on a voluntary basis to support the foundation.

Other initiatives included delivering consultations via telephone and increasing prevention measures. The Foundation was the first health provider to obtain the COVID-19 certification from the Asociación Española de Normalización y Certificación, which certifies that the provider has the right protocols in place to face the virus.

Over 2.6 million people are insured through the Espriu Foundation. Under normal circumstances the Foundation deals with 540,000 medical emergencies every year, carrying out 13 million medical consultations.

“During 2020, to these figures we had to add the avalanche of COVID-19 cases and the thousands of hospital admissions that have occurred due to the pandemic,” added Dr Zarco. Since the pandemic the foundation carried out over 100,000 COVID-19 tests.

“Being cooperatives affects the way we do things entirely,” explained Dr Zarco. “Our cooperative identity commits us to a humanised healthcare approach, with a vocation for service and a management model that places people at the centre. This is reflected in concrete actions.”

For example, Assistència Sanitària, one of the Espriu Foundation entities, set up a telephone information centre staffed by health professionals and open to the entire population. The Foundation also took measures to postpone payments from members affected by the economic crisis and offer financial aid to doctors who had to close their practices. A solidarity fund was created to cover the death of health professionals affected by COVID-19 and provide financial support to those hospitalised.

Going forward the Espriu Foundation will focus on digital technology. Already, artificial intelligence is being used at the HLA Group hospitals, one of its centres, to improve interaction with patients. Another priority will be prevention, says Dr Zarco. One example is the PAPPA program, developed by the Hospital de Barcelona, which, given the growing trend towards longevity and chronicity, offers specialised treatment and adequate care to elderly patients with multiple chronic diseases, in most cases in their own homes.

Read the full interview with Dr Zarco in the document attached below.

Hew Coop Japan

The Health and Welfare Cooperative Federation (Hew Coop Japan) was also quick to respond to the crisis. By 19 February 2020 the federation had adopted a strategy to deal with the pandemic, said its Vice President, Dr Toshinori Ozeki.

“The COVID-19 spread in mainly urban areas, where many Japanese health cooperatives are based. The pandemic has caused serious health and social problems for vulnerable people. Many clinics and hospitals in the Hew Coop Japan are providing free medical care for the poor people. Seventeen cooperatives treated the COVID-19 patients and 81 clinics and hospitals launched the outpatient department for fever,” he said.

The pandemic brought huge infection prevention costs for health cooperatives, two thirds of which have had to secure emergency loans.

Yet, in spite of these challenges, cooperators came together to support each other. Members of the Consumers’ Cooperative Union and the National Federation of Workers and Consumers Insurance made prevention aprons and masks, which were delivered free of charge to healthcare cooperatives, medical centres and communities at large.

“Our hospitals and clinics are contributing to treating and diagnosing the patients with corona, and preparing the COVID-19 vaccination. The most important objective of the Hew Coop Japan is spreading the right knowledge of the COVID-19 prevention to the members in the area. I hope cooperatives all over the world overcome the pandemic,” added Dr Ozeki.

Read the full interview with Dr Ozeki in the document attached below.

Cameroon Health Cooperatives Association

In Cameroon, the Health Cooperatives Association understood the scope and the challenges of the health, economic and social crisis early on. The first cases appeared in the Mokolo locality in March 2020, which soon went into lockdown.  In response, medical professionals from Santé Assurée Coop Ca, a member of the association, volunteered to conduct health screenings at the entrance into the city, to try to prevent further contamination.

The cooperative also introduced relevant prevention measures in medical centres, distributed masks and soaps, and carried out an awareness raising campaign to inform the general public about the pandemic.

Furthermore, its members Sodimess and Sante Assurée led an awareness campaign to help the public stay safe during the pandemic, and distributed masks and sanitisers to refugees at the Minawao camp.

Dr Donkou Raouph Fadil, President of Cameroon’s Health Cooperatives Association, added that medical staff also received training on the overall management of COVID-19.

“Globally, the cooperative identity is still embryonic,” added Dr Fadil. “Given the limits of our available resources and the lack of recognition of the cooperative by local authorities as an important partner or entity in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this did not make the task any easier.” 

A key priority for the federation going forward will be to set up a health insurance division.

Read the full interview with Dr Fadil in the document attached below.


Once the first case of COVID-19 was registered in Colombia on 6 March health cooperative COOMEVA adopted swift actions to contain and mitigate the impact of the pandemic. The cooperative’s response was guided by a set of principles including prioritising people’s health and safety and acting in solidarity.

A permanent COVID-19 Analysis Committee was set up to analyse the crisis generated by the pandemic, as well as the impact that the situation could have on the Cooperative and its businesses.

Coomeva also started a communication campaign to deliver information to members and to the wider community about the virus and its forms of infection.

The cooperative also expanded its range of digital services and enabled staff to work from home, where possible.

COOMEVA focused on offering relief and aid to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic among associates, employees and the community in general. Its financial businesses provided relief and new credit options for emergencies.

Meanwhile, its healthcare division treated 66,807 users with a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 with another 244,000 follow up consultations.  Around 333,000 tests were carried out, and 300,596 COVID-19 calls were answered. The cooperative also provided over one million telephone consultations. Around 6,898 patients were also treated in COOMEVA’s hospitals, 1,600 of which had to be treated in the Intensive Care Units, ICU.

“The cooperative identity has been the essence that has allowed Coomeva to act in the way it has done in the midst of the circumstances due to the pandemic,” said general director Gilberto Quinche Toro. Read the full interview with him in the below attached document.

As to the future, Mr Toro says COOMEVA will continue to support the National Government’s vaccination campaign, explore changes in consumer behaviours and continue to excel in the provision of healthcare service.

Read the full interview with Mr Toro in the document attached below.

Photo: medical staff from Fundacion Espriu



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